The Last Minivan Battle? Orders Open for the AWD Chrysler Pacifica

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
the last minivan battle orders open for the awd chrysler pacifica

Seating, fuel economy, and traction: these are the three areas in which the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica and all-new Toyota Sienna will do battle, though neither of these vehicles is a direct match for the other.

In the shrinking minivan segment, the urge to offer everything a buyer might want has led us to this point. Orders opened for the all-wheel drive Pacifica on Friday — a product that Chrysler hopes will give would-be crossover buyers food for thought. In the Toyota corner, standard hybrid power and available AWD greets buyers for 2021. Similar beasts, but not at all identical.

Will seating decide the victor?

It could come down to that. But back up a moment first. The model now available for ordering is not the redesigned 2021 Pacifica, but the 2020 Pacifica AWD Launch Edition — a driveshaft-equipped current-generation vehicle kitted out in Touring L guise (with S Appearance package) that arrives in the third quarter of 2020. Seems Chrysler couldn’t wait to get this feature on the market.

The Pacifica boasts two pros and one con, in that its AWD system is a mechanical one, capable of sending 100 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels, yet still capable of handling the brand’s Stow ‘n Go seating. Make those captain’s chairs disappear. The model’s drawback is that AWD cannot be combined with hybrid propulsion.

Toyota’s gambit is to make every Sienna a hybrid (though not a plug-in), with AWD offered through the addition of an extra electric motor placed atop the rear axle. Eighty percent of the vehicle’s driving force can funnel into those back wheels, operating independent of the engine. No mechanical connection here. Greater efficiency come standard in this rig, but the Sienna can’t make its seats sink into the floor.

However, the center second-row seat can be removed, and the cabin can be outfitted with captain’s chairs that not only slide fore and aft up to 25 inches, as well as side to side, but can also coddle passengers with a limo-like ottoman footrests. Comfort over versatility.

Which combo will win over buyers? That’s for the public to ultimately decide. In the meantime, the Pacifica AWD Launch Edition carries a lofty sticker of $40,240, with 2021 trims and pricing still unknown. Packing a new look and a greater level of standard safety features and convenience tech, the ’21 model arrives in the fourth quarter.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler, Toyota]

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  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Jun 08, 2020

    What percentage of Siennas sold are AWD? Unless the percentage is much I higher than I assume then why is FCA spending some of their limited resources on this? Meanwhile the CVP Caravan which was regularly advertised at under $21k is now being listed/advertised at over $26k. Is this because there is a huge demand for these vehicles so FCA does not have to discount them? Or is it because FCA executives are purposely pricing the Caravan too high in order to justify its execution and to try to drive purchasers to the Pacifica? If I was running FCA I would invest around $500 in better parts for Caravan and offer a 10 year warranty and continue to manufacture them for years to come.

    • PrincipalDan PrincipalDan on Jun 08, 2020

      IIRC for some years the AWD option on the Sienna was only available with the top trims. The AWD Sienna became a bit of a status symbol in some communities, usually those that culturally were more likely to observe traditional gender roles with the male as the sole breadwinner. (At least this is what I have observed.)

  • Conundrum Conundrum on Jun 09, 2020

    Pacifica can send 100% of the torque to the rear wheels? Like any of these single inline to the rear axle clutch AWD things, only if the front wheels are spinning over the ditch you almost plopped into. Still better than nothing I guess. The lack of mechanical knowledge of today's "pundits" continues apace. And the PR types who feed 'em press releases are just as gormless, assigning front/rear torque split feats of glory to cheap AWD that are mechanically impossible in normal driving.

    • Kosmo Kosmo on Jun 09, 2020

      Not sure whether you're right or wrong, but there IS a nice write up on the AWD system over on Jalopnik.

  • FreedMike This article fails to mention that Toyota is also investing heavily in solid state battery tech - which would solve a lot of inherent EV problems - and plans to deploy it soon. https://insideevs.com/news/598046/toyota-global-leader-solid-state-batery-patents/Of course, Toyota being Toyota, it will use the tech in hybrids first, which is smart - that will give them the chance to iron out the wrinkles, so to speak. But having said that, I’m with Toyota here - I’m not sold on an all EV future happening anytime soon. But clearly the market share for these vehicles has nowhere to go but up; how far up depends mainly on charging availability. And whether Toyota’s competitors are all in is debatable. Plenty of bet-hedging is going on among makers in the North American market.
  • Jeff S I am not against EVs but I completely understand Toyota's position. As for Greenpeace putting Toyota at the bottom of their environmental list is more drama. A good hybrid uses less gas, is cleaner than most other ICE, and is more affordable than most EVs. Prius has proven longevity and low maintenance cost. Having had a hybrid Maverick since April and averaging 40 to 50 mpg in city driving it has been smooth driving and very economical. Ford also has very good hybrids and some of the earlier Escapes are still going strong at 300k miles. The only thing I would have liked in my hybrid Maverick would be a plug in but it didn't come with it. If Toyota made a plug in hybrid compact pickup like the Maverick it would sell well. I would consider an EV in the future but price, battery technology, and infrastructure has to advance and improve. I don't buy a vehicle based on the recommendation of Greenpeace, as a status symbol, or peer pressure. I buy a vehicle on what best needs my needs and that I actually like.
  • Mobes Kind of a weird thing that probably only bothers me, but when you see someone driving a car with ball joints clearly about to fail. I really don't want to be around a car with massive negative camber that's not intentional.
  • Jeff S How reliable are Audi? Seems the Mazda, CRV, and Rav4 in the higher trim would not only be a better value but would be more reliable in the long term. Interior wise and the overall package the Mazda would be the best choice.
  • Pickles69 They have a point. All things (or engines/propulsion) to all people. Yet, when the analogy of being, “a department store,” of options is used, I shudder. Department stores are failing faster than any other retail. Just something to chew on.
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